Embracing Discomfort: How to Harness the Power of Provocation

Innovation is growth by doing something new. Entering new territories, pushing the envelope of a company, exploring fresh opportunities, respecting but challenging people to push outside their comfort zones for the the hope of something great.

On April 1, 2015, Sylvain Labs “innovated” by opening its first European office in Amsterdam. We initially expanded to Europe in order to service our existing clients on an international scale and to create more opportunities for ourselves globally. And, while this has been a success, the new office has resulted in an unexpected, and almost more important, outcome.

Our Amsterdam office has dramatically benefited our domestic clients and the work we do within the US. It has allowed Sylvain Labs to further expand its horizons. To add new points of view.  To see more. With different eyes and angles. To create better, more provocative perspectives.  

In the same vein that our US partners have benefited from a European perspective, so too can European brands/companies benefit from external, provocative perspectives from the US.  Both groups benefit because we are adding new points of view and new inspiration to the work we do.  So, let us tell you a bit about why this is so important.

Two Types Of Growth
At its simplest, there are only two ways for a company to grow organically— either producing more of what they already make, or creating something new. Producing more of something a company already make requires engineering talent, and often concerns efficiencies of scale. The creation of something new, however, requires something a bit more challenging: provocative perspectives.  

Provocative is defined as: "causing annoyance, anger, or another strong reaction, especially deliberately.” It’s the deliberate eliciting of a strong reaction that is crucial to the creation of something new. Every act of creation demands the destruction of what came before, and this destruction can only occur in the presence of a strong perspective and reaction.  It is required of anyone seeking to create something new that they catalyze strong reactions that drive this destruction. From a business perspective, whether a company is trying to recalibrate based on negative results or expand to new markets, provocative perspectives are the fuel that powers explosive growth and new opportunities.

Provocative perspectives push people from their comfort zones and challenge our often lazy preconceptions, breaking from the forces of inertia towards something bigger or better.  In fact, sometimes it’s not just about incorporating new thinking, it’s about completely abandoning old ways of thinking— if a paradigm is what drove you to a problem, it’s likely not going to be what gets you out of it..  Provocative perspectives spark this new thinking, experimentation, and, ultimately, the destruction of the old.  This, in turn, surfaces unknown and uncharted opportunities that would have otherwise been missed.  Experience and knowledge are, of course, valuable in problem solving; but if you want to develop new approaches or opportunities, you must engage your curiosity and challenge yourself to break out of your usual ways of thinking.

In addition to new styles of thinking, another major benefit of the inclusion of provocative perspectives is the massive influx of energy— both positive and negative. The opportunity to work with new minds on a problem you’ve been stuck on can be extremely refreshing, and can revitalize a team. This energy may be used to help further new ideas. It can also just as easily be used to fight for ideas that are already in the pipeline, but haven’t been fully fleshed out. Often times, ideas make sense to those who are closest to them, but are difficult to communicate because of previously held assumptions that may be the root of the problem. By bringing in others who can challenge the prevailing thinking, you either end up in an entirely new place, or you’ve fortified the schema you’ve already been working from. Either way, you’ve significantly improved your position.   

A final value of provocative perspectives is their ability to imbue your company, product, or service with a distinctive personality or voice that challenges people. Provocation has the unique ability to move people - be it customers or partners - through a clear and unique point of view. It makes people pay attention.  It makes them stop, think, and, most important, feel something. Even if someone disagrees, they are at the very least being forced to validate and think critically about their position. The energy of provocative perspectives is contagious, and people are drawn to a voice that disrupts the status quo.

While, understanding the value of provocative perspectives is crucial, it is only the first step.  Just as important, is creating an environment in which provocative perspectives can surface and thrive. So how do you do this?  

Generating provocative perspectives
Sometimes innovation is the result of blind luck.  But that’s not a strategy that most companies can or should rely on.  You have to be proactive to create provocative perspectives.  You have to build and foster an environment in which “accidents” can occur. At the core of creating this environment is the combination of diversity of talent and an openness to support radical opinions.

Diversity is important. Diversity of race, gender, education, nationality, etc..  But diversity in and of itself it isn’t sufficient, and it’s actually wasted if it isn’t given the freedom to express its various thoughts, opinions, experiences, mindsets, and voices. Organizations  need this freedom to create tension and conflict from dissimilar opinions and experiences. Creating, challenging, disagreeing, arguing, and debating fosters a tension from which fresh and original ideas can grow and thrive.

At Sylvain Labs, we assemble new teams of creative strategists for each project; harnessing and unleashing divergent approaches that most benefit the project and client. This could mean pairing a foodie with a tech-geek. Or a strategist with a background in neuroscience with another whose expertise is in history. Or a strategist based in Amsterdam with one based in NYC and another based in Richmond.  Whatever the mix may be, we are always looking to assemble teams with unexpected combinations in order to create tensions that create new connections, new ideas, and challenge each member’s world view. The added benefit of all of this is that it also just makes it all a lot more fun.